Fifty-year-old Stan was not your typical crystal meth addict — until, he says, he was. The commercial real estate executive wasn’t a young person starved for opportunity in a rural community. He didn’t lack for education and certainly wasn’t hurting for money. But the demographic divide slammed shut when he started seeing hallucinations of “shadow people” perched in the trees at night. Young or old, rich or poor, rural or urban, it no longer mattered. Stan was just another addict, like all the other methamphetamine abusers, a legion now numbering some 25 million worldwide. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the average age of new methamphetamine users is 19.7 years old. And while the backgrounds of meth addicts run the gamut, most are jobless or on public assistance. Stan enjoyed a high six-figure salary, had a loving family, a first-class education and a strong spiritual side. He called his the “perfect” life. But none of that, he says, “saved him from or prepared him for the disease of addiction.” “People who knew me well couldn’t see me doing something like meth,” said the Houston resident, now 58 and a one-time principal at a major Texas-based global commercial real estate company. “But [addiction] can happen to you, so don’t think it’s not possible.” Despite his social status — he once rubbed elbows with the Bush family — Stan had no desire to remain anonymous for this story. He hopes others will learn not only from his mistakes, but from how he overcame his dependence on meth. “If I keep my mouth shut, what’s the point?” Stan said. “There are lots of Stans. I know they’re out there — many, many people like me who live double lives as their disease grows and grows. But I hope people come to understand and believe that treatment is necessary and recovery is possible.” According to Stan, the key to his release from the binds of meth was a program called “Positive Recovery” at the Right Step drug rehab in Houston. There he learned to focus on what was right in his life, not what had gone so terribly wrong during his years of addiction.
Bored and Betrayed
Crystal methamphetamine, known informally as ice, glass and tina, is a powerfully addicting stimulant that creates an incredible sense of euphoria, alertness and energy. For Stan, the one trait he did share with other meth addicts was the need for a lift, an escape. He had it all, he says. He was bored. A convertible wasn’t the remedy. He already had one. It was the classic midlife crisis and the meth buzz gave him a quick way out. In addition to struggling with this crisis of identity, Stan’s story of addiction was also bred of resentment. The Enron scandal had just erupted and before it ended in late 2001, he and thousands of other investors would take a huge financial hit. A former Enron employee, Stan’s retirement “went up in smoke.” In his anger, he decided he too would take a shot at playing fast and loose with the rules.
“I had been so good my whole life,” he said. “I graduated at the top of my class, I had a great job, I made a lot of money, I had two sons in college and a beautiful wife. But the Enron thing started making me think I can do things I shouldn’t. It was a hallmark for all of the bad decisions I made.”
It was time for Stan to change things up. “At the pinnacle of my career, I thought the view was going to be different,” he said. “And because I was bored and because it was easy to find illegal drugs on the Internet that they would deliver right to my office, I thought, ‘I can do this. No one will ever find out.’” So began seven years of addiction. His decline started with erratic behavior, prompting his boss to tell him that if he didn’t know Stan better, he’d suspect he was on drugs. (“Isn’t that funny?” Stan told his boss, laughing to himself at the irony.) People knew something was wrong, he said, but no one could have imagined the true cause. Yet, before it all ended, Stan had traded in a 6,000-square-foot home for the backseat of his car. “I lost my wife, my job, my self-respect, my kids’ love, everything,” he said. He had been arrested a half-dozen times while on the streets, but it was his final detention, six days in the Harris County Jail, when a moment of clarity hit. The four men crowded in the cell with him were talking about scoring drugs when they got out, but not Stan. “I thought to myself, ‘No, this has to stop,’” Stan said. “Everyone who has really committed to recovery has one of those moments. That was mine.” A major dose of that clarity came when Stan had to call his father from jail. A man in his 50s forced to reach out to his elderly dad to literally bail him out. “My mom actually told him to leave me in there,” he said. “She was thinking tough love. But I was beyond the ‘tough love’ thing. I needed help.” Thankfully, for Stan, his father did come to his aid, agreeing to post bail, but on one condition. His father came with a family friend, an attorney, who presented him with a contract that provided that he would immediately enter a recovery program for substance abuse. There was no need for negotiation. He was ready. “What I wanted at that point, more than anything else, more than the drugs, was I wanted my family back,” said Stan, whose estrangement from his family was so complete during the depths of his addiction that he missed the birth of his first grandchild, a fact that weighed heavily on him. He didn’t get a phone call until days after the baby was born, he said.
Strength-Based Recovery ‘Spoke to My Soul’
Stan remembers well the day he entered treatment at The Right Step in Houston — Dec. 30, 2014. He had been to 12-step meetings in the past but never stayed for long, he said. “They’re mostly people talking about what they did wrong,” he said. It was the focus on positivity at The Right Step that resonated with Stan. “It just sang every chapter and verse for me,” he said. The Positive Recovery program, developed by Dr. Jason Powers, MD, uses a strength-based approach to recovery that helps addicts rediscover meaning and joy in their lives. Abstinence is only step one. Over the course of the program, participants cultivate lifelong skills to develop happier, more purposeful lives so that addiction is less tempting and relapse is less likely. “Dr. Powers says that you’ve got to focus on the good, or the positive, not the bad,” Stan said. “When you’re an addict, you’ve been through plenty of bad. But you can’t stay in that or you’ll never get well. That totally spoke to my soul and I knew I was in the right place.” Another aspect of the program in which participants learn to identify their character strengths has also helped Stan in his recovery. He said he’s found that 12-step programs are “usually about character defects. But if you focus on your strengths — how you can harness those to make you happy and make other people’s lives better — wow. Everyone should be looking at this stuff.” “Some of the neatest things are the exercises in his workbook, like the gratitude exercise,” he said. “You write down three good things that happened every day and what your part [in them] was. You can pick and choose 10 of the exercises at random and they’re all good.” Stan says he followed the program religiously and is now living a better life than he ever thought possible. He’s been changed in many ways during the course of his recovery, including developing a more tolerant attitude toward others. He feels strongly that recovering addicts need to speak out against the stigma attached to the illness, much like the LGBT community has fought back against stereotyping and discrimination. “The reason they are more accepted now is because they made change happen,” Stan said. “They were their own advocates. We have to do that, too. I don’t care who knows my story. That might be the thing that will get them to their ‘aha’ moment. If I won’t do it, shame on me. “Stan did this and this and this, and he was a meth addict? I’m that too. I don’t have any shame about it. It’s just part of my life.”